Superman: American Alien (October 2016)

superamericanalienThe tagline on the back of this book is, “This is not a Superman comic.” Yes, but not because it’s a Clark Kent comic. No, it’s a Max Landis comic. Max Landis thinks he’s Clark Kent and this comic is an alternately banal and nauseating expression of his ego. Maybe it was inevitable he’d write a Superman graphic novel eventually, since his biggest fame has not come from his produced screenplays (including the found-footage superhero movie Chronicle) but from his viral YouTube videos about The Death of Superman and Clark Kent himself, which led to appearances on popular movie geek channels like Red Letter Media and Movie Fights, where he’s amusingly trashed Zack Snyder et all. A lot of people find his personality annoying but he’s at least earnestly articulate in his geek enthusiasms – especially for Superman, since Superman has been considered the uncool runner-up to Batman for about 30 years and needs the boost. But Max Landis’ version of Clark Kent is his own fantasy of being less self-aware, of wanting to be genuinely humble about possessing extraordinary talents, or at least privileges, that are his birthright – while maintaining the veneer of a happy-go-lucky geek.

Liking Superman better than Batman is arguably the Hipster’s preference. Landis actually wrote a Superman comic in 2014, a one issue imaginary first confrontation between Superman and The Joker where the punchline is that Joker can’t torment a superhero with a sense of humor and actual superpowers. Essentially, using the most popular Batman villain to argue that Superman is in another league. That and his YouTube videos have never given the impression he was affecting an ironic love of Superman. American Alien, collecting a limited series of seven issues with different artists for each story and backup one-page fill-ins, confirms Max Landis’ sincere appreciation for Superman – or at least just Clark Kent, in an unexpectedly disturbing reflection of the author’s own self-love. It’s not the kind of thing you’d notice if you weren’t familiar with Max Landis the Geek-Hollywood icon (that ignominious realm where people like Joss Whedon and Chris Hardwick dwell) but if people weren’t already familiar with Max Landis this book wouldn’t be on the New York Times bestseller list.

The first story, Dove, is about a very young Clark learning to fly. He also goes to see E.T. at the drive-in with Lana Lang, as Landis doesn’t know what life in Kansas is like but knows people go to movies. A John Deere trucker hat sees Clark riding on a pickup in cornrows and remarks, “Damn hippies.” What’s the matter with Kansas? “Maybe weird is better” says Jonathan Kent, reassuring his son who punched a mirror in fit of alien self-hate. Someday he’ll be in the big city where weird is normal and the exceptionally weird can flourish. Artist Nick Dragotta’s figures and backgrounds are fine enough but his manga-influenced facial expressions melt all over the character’s heads and their mouths are frequently just monochromatic ovals. Matthew Clark designs and illustrates a more compelling two page spread to ending the issue, with the Kent’s bulletin board collection of personal letters and photos telling the backstory of a prior miscarriage by Martha, their young professional lives as a veterinarian and lawyer, and most tellingly to Max’s unselfconscious elitism, a letter from Martha assuring John that the inheritance of his father’s farm does not mean he’s “‘trapped’ back in Smallville.”

The second story, Hawk, is Clark Kent’s first incident stopping some bad guys. They’re completely loco bad guys out of an exploitation movie, too, whose motivation is purely to kill innocent people. Clark stops them because darn it, that’s just the right thing to do. Passable teen banter between Clark and Pete Ross at the beginning, before the crushingly predictable proceedings. Tommy Lee Edwards does a good job with the art and color which has a gritty true crime feel. The inconsequential, one page Doomsday cameo at the end with art by Evan “Doc” Shaner feels like a reminder that Max’s Death and Return of Superman video is the only reason you’re wasting time reading yet another variation on the most cliched pivotal moment of every superhero’s origin story. Even Batman tried fighting crime without a costume first.

Parrot, the third story, finally finds Clark in an environment Landis knows how to write authentically: a party for stupid, fake rich people. The setup is still extremely contrived: Clark happens to win a Bahamas vacation trip where the plane just happens to crash next to a boat which just happens to be Bruce Wayne’s 21st birthday, who’s not there, so everyone just assumes Clark is Bruce. And it just so happens no one knows what Bruce Wayne looks like? He hooks up with pre-Cheetah Barbara Ann Minerva, whom he tells he wants to be a veterinarian because dumb animals don’t know how to ask for help. I think this is supposed to be touching and not condescending. Deathstroke cameos in a failed assassination attempt which, facetiously, Clark is unfazed by and immediately forgets. The closest the story comes to a meaningful moment is when Clark remarks on the decadence of rich people eating gold flakes on caviar, but the whole issue is like Max Landis doing a PG-rated Brett Easton Ellis where he uses an insider’s perspective to affirm his superior self-awareness towards the rich kids he grew up with. Really appealing art by Joëlle Jones and vibrant colors by Rico Renzi.

The one-pager at the end of this issue is a high point for the series’ creep factor. Mr. Mxyzptlk, a character whom I love, especially for his license to break the fourth wall, is turned into the hideously honest voice of Landis’ narcissism as he imparts to the reader that fame is life:

“Who’s more real, you or me?…How many people know your name?…I was created as a character in 1944…Millions of people have known my name…I don’t need a body…I’m living in your head right now…When you think of me later…I’ll be alive again…And yet, I can promise with absolute certainty that I will never once think of YOU.”

Mxyzptlk wasn’t half as frightening when Alan Moore revealed his true form and set him on Superman. This is Landis trying to do Grant Morrison, Animal-Man-can-see-you kind of philosophical comics, but it’s malicious. There’s a panel where Mxy goes monstrous looking, so maybe this kind of existentialism frightens him, too – but if he’s frightened by the fact he’ll never be as famous as Mr. Mxyyzptlk, he’s also comforted by the fact he gets to be his voice for a moment in time. If you’ve ever met the children of famous people, or even heard them speak publicly, you start to notice this equation of obscurity and oblivion.

Owl, the fourth story, introduces Lex Luthor, and as great heroes are defined by their villains, so too do neurotic writers define themselves by their hero’s villains. Telegraphed as a follower of “Ayn Rand bull” by Lois Lane, Luthor gives a monologue to budding reporter Clark Kent about his philosophy of life, which is basically that geniuses who can work hard are rare, and they don’t tend to be people who’ve had things handed to them, and he doesn’t need people to like him in order to carry on what he thinks is his important work. Sounds like an okay guy, right? Is this what Landis thinks sounds sinister? Sure he’s arrogant about it, but this is the ethos of people who actually exist in real life and want to advance the human race, not a fantasy figure of Christlike selflessness. Christ didn’t need to be liked, either. Apparently Landis just has genuine contempt for the self-made Lex Luthors of the world. Clark then runs into the young Robin, who tells him that Batman needs a counterpart because darkness needs light, and fear needs hope, and I’m so tired of superhero dialogue where they talk about their own marketing strategies.

Jae Lee does great art, even though she draws everyone Asian. Lois Lane looks like Lois Long. Colorist June Chung does really beautiful impressionist style backgrounds.

Steve Dillon illustrates a slick 12 panel silent origin for the Parasite. This was one of the last pages he ever drew. RIP.

The fifth story, Eagle, is a routine as hackneyed as Hawk – Superman’s first encounter with a monster of Luthor’s creation, he shows up at Luthor’s office, Luthor has plausible deniability, yadda yadda yadda. The only interesting detail is how Clark’s inspiration to put an “S” on his chest came from an off-hand sarcastic remark from Luthor in the previous issue (about how special people don’t just put an “S” on their chests) and in this issue he decides that the “S” stands for “Super” based on another sarcastic remark from Luthor. Superman’s whole shtick is a troll on Luthor! Earlier in the issue, Clark says “I’m sincere a lot. It’s my thing” which is a good encapsulation of Landis’ faux-humility he projects onto Clark.

The one-pager closer is a real toss-off: a letter from Jimmy Olsen quitting The Daily Planet for not running a story exposing how Two-Face is really Harvey Dent. If Max Landis is so smart why does he think The Dark Knight is a good movie worth referencing?

Speaking of Jimmy Olsen, in the following story Angel he’s revealed as a gay black man, so maybe Max also thought Superman Lives was worth referencing. Or he’s simply into forced revisionist diversity. Just kidding, I read his Twitter feed; it’s the latter. Pete Ross visits from Smallville to mention that the “S” was also on the side of baby Kal-El’s pod, like Landis realized his mistake in the previous issues about its origin and decided to hedge bets that Luthor’s remarks were a coincidence. Almost the entire issue is Pete Ross telling Clark he needs to take being Superman more seriously. It’s very boring, but with nice art & color by Jonathan Case.

Valkyrie, the final story, is Superman meeting Lobo, whom Landis absolutely has no clue how to write. They fight and it’s kind of a rewrite of the Zod fight from Man of Steel, all over and done with pretty quickly, though artist Jock makes it look cool with his own unique style. A real anticlimax of a finish.

Superman: American Alien manages to be boring, pretentious and derivative all at once. It’s sheer mediocrity propped up by good-to-great artists who deserved better material. Landis likes Superman and has absolutely nothing to say with the character, only about him, without the conciseness of a ten minute YouTube diatribe. The book is a bestseller because its author is Internet famous for talking about Superman, wrestling, Star Wars and other clickbait, not because it’s good. Don’t even wait for the softcover edition. Track down his Joker-meets-Superman story with nice art by Jock – The Sound of One Hand Clapping, instead. It’s a lot better than anything in this waste of shelf space.

CREDITS

Writer, Max Landis; artists, Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock; colorists, Alex Guimares, Tommy Lee Edwards, Rico Renzi, June Chung, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Lee Loughridge; lettering, John Workman; publisher, DC Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 34

Are we on time? We’re not as late as usual though we aren’t exactly on time. But a lot is going on with comics and it’s a very full episode.

Here’s what we talk about.

DC Rebirth, Young Animal, Flintstones, Dark Knight, Mockingbird, Jessica Jones, Afterlife with Archie, Stranger Attractors, Kill or be Killed, Demonic, Nights Dominion, Kong of Skull Island, Betty Boop, Resident Alien, Jupiter’s Legacy, Reborn, 7 to Eternity, Red One, Hadrian’s Wall, Moonshine, Killer Inside Me, Electric Sublime, Manifest Destiny, I Hate Fairyland, Lazarus, Weird Detective, Black Hammer, Kaijumax, Love and Rockets

Plus trades, plus general news and happenings, plus TV talk, minus “Arrow” because no one watches “Arrow”

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

Cinema Purgatorio 6 (September 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #6

If there’s meant to be an ideal Cinema Purgatorio, this issue comes closer than I’d ever imagine the comic would get. Even with the occasionally phenomenal, usually good, always fine features from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, there’s not much of a feel to the comic. It’s an anthology without tone, not even in terms of the story selection. It feels like Alan Moore inserted into a bad Avatar idea.

Until this issue. It’s not like Gillen’s Modded is any better, but Nahuel Lopez’s artwork is less complicated than the last artist’s and it makes it read better. It might not make it better, I feel like Lopez isn’t ambitious as much as functional while the last guy was ambitious, but it makes it read better. It makes Modded less of a letdown when you get to it.

Because it’s not just like the Moore and O’Neill feature is great, Code Pru is actually pretty awesome. Pro is having dinner at the Nighthawks diner and she has a talk with a reject from a bad eighties Terminator/Highlander knockoff. It’s funny, it’s kind of touching, it’s kind of strange. It’s Ennis finding something cool to do with this usually devastatingly series. Ennis doesn’t have a handle on this comic, maybe because of the length, maybe because of whatever, but this time out, he finds it. He finds his character. Caceres’s art is fine. It doesn’t end up fitting well enough, but it’s fine.

A Most Perfect Union is dumb but DiPascale’s on a role with his art, both in terms of the narrative pacing and of his character expressions. He’s developing a visual tone for the comic even though Brooks’s script is weak. And The Vast is cute. Andrade’s art gets confusing, but Gage actually paces out a fight scene well.

So Cinema Purgatorio is finally a diverting read. Not rewarding in all its parts, but diverting in them. But it all hinges on Moore and O’Neill. This issue of Cinema Purgatorio opens with a political bombshell. Moore and O’Neill tell the story of the Warner Brothers–you know, the guys whose company now owns DC Comics and has made lots of bad movies off of Alan Moore’s comic books, which he infamously hates being involved with. I actually thought he was going to go further, but he stayed classy. Heinous individuals get proper treatment. There’s a lot in the story–a couple times O’Neill just gives up and lets the dialogue and visual references take over. I couldn’t help reading the feature–Moore casts the Marx Brothers as the Warner Brothers, which brings in even more politics. Today Warner owns the MGM library, including the Marx Brothers movies (at least for home video distribution, I actually have no idea if they lease them or own them or what, not the point)–so is Moore making a deeper jab at Warner? Was his King Kong feature a couple issues ago a jab at Warner? Am I reading too much into it? It’s Alan Moore, after all. Aren’t I supposed to read into it?

Anyway, the feature’s great. Beautifully visually, beautifully in terms of dialogue and the Marxist banter. It flows so nicely into Ennis’s Code Pru, it’s impossible not to be generous with this rest of the comic.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, A Night at the Lawyers; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Big Jimmy C.; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Michael DiPascale. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Kill or be Killed 3 (October 2016)

Kill or Be Killed #3

Kill or be Killed is cringe-worthy. Not a page of narration goes by where there isn’t something dumb or awful in Brubaker’s writing. He doesn’t have a story–the protagonist goes to wintery Coney Island with his best friend, the girl who’s dating his roommate and pity makes out with him. There’s the story. The rest of it is the lead getting Unbreakable powers from the demon to see the evil men and women do.

There’s occasionally some decent art from Phillips, but even it’s not enough to keep the comic going. Maybe because the characters are so bad; I mean, Phillips draws the protagonist like a tool but Brubaker writes him like a white savior character. There’s even a panel where some cute girl admires his studiousness. Because chicks think it’s hot when you’re all banged up and studying.

As for the best friend, she’s so poorly written I’m beginning to think Kill or be Killed is either a drawer script from when Brubaker was eight or he’s just putting his name on it and has some really lame friend who wants to write comics but Brubaker owes the guy a lung or something.

The only reason to read Kill or be Killed, with the occasional art exceptions, is to be mortified. I don’t read Brubaker comics to be mortified. I’m having a difficult time justifying giving this one any more of my time.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Lazarus 25 (October 2016)

Lazarus 25

Lazarus is back on track–sort of, Rucka still splits the issue too much–but he doesn’t just give Forever something to do, he lets her make the big decision. The latest arc has been floundering a bit because Forever has been recuperating and way too much the subject of the comic and not enough the protagonist. The moves Rucka makes this issue don’t exactly but her back in the protagonist chair, but they put her close enough to it to create some good will, all while he’s implying the chair is about to get upgraded.

Rucka does try to make the non-Forever, non-Carlyle half of the comic more dynamic. There’s a news team trying to get a good story or something. It leads to some mildly amusing dialogue and a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger doesn’t have any meat to it–the comic gets more enthusiasm off its promise of next issue’s Lazarus battle (as it involves Forever) than anything in the cliffhanger.

As always, the Lark art is wonderful. Even if he does just get to do talking heads. Rucka seems to be about done with his setup, he just needs to deliver on it. This issue suggests he can and will, enough I’m not worried. I just want him to get to it. Forever needs to kick some ass.

CREDITS

Cull, Part Four; writer, Greg Rucka; penciller, Michael Lark; inkers, Lark and Tyler Boss; colorist, Santiago Arcas; letterer, Jodi Wynne; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York 1 (October 2016)

Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York #1

The funny part of Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York is its a crossover of the Boom! licensed comics, not the original film properties. I read Big Trouble for a bit; it ranged from really good to even better for a while. Escape not at all. It was the pits. I’m not sure I would’ve given the book a shot if I’d known it was for the comics and not the movies.

But I’m glad I did. It’s not quite up to snuff, but it might be as the series progresses. I don’t think great–there’s a lot wrong with it starting with Daniel Bayliss drawing Jack Burton with an exaggerated chin (like in the Big Trouble book) only being way too realistic about it. It looks like some kind of photoshop distortion, not an absurdly square-jawed person. Though maybe Jack had implants in the comic, who knows.

Otherwise Bayliss’s art is fine. Greg Pak doesn’t get to New York this issue, instead he rips off some Fury Road type villains so there can be desert scenes. Because when I think a book called Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York, I think desert scenery. So there’s not much heavy lifting on atmosphere. Bayliss does a solid amusing shootout for Snake. Not as good on the Jack Burton action.

Pat’s premise is simple–he makes fun of Snake and Jack, which means he’s not getting the point of either character, at least not for how the films portrayed them. Snake and Jack–who both look the same in the comic, which is part of the gimmick–were Kurt Russell doing a John Wayne and a Clint Eastwood impression. He didn’t do them well, but it’s like John Carpenter learned from “Elvis” just not to tell Russell he was doing bad and instead turn it into a great performance. Or Carpenter just hadn’t figured out how to direct a movie star as opposed to an actor, whatever. Pak doesn’t get it. Or maybe the comics didn’t get it.

I’m surprised but I’ll be back for the next one. It’s competent enough and it’s ambitiously dumb enough. If Pak doesn’t mess anything up and just does his Fury Road rip-off, hopefully with a Macready cameo at the end, it’ll better than anyone expected. Except maybe Fresno Bob.

CREDITS

Snake’s World; writer, Greg Pak; artist, Daniel Bayliss; colorist, Triona Farrell; letterer, Simon Bowland; editors, Alex Galer and Dafna Pleban; publisher, Boom! Studios.

Surgeon X 1 (September 2016)

Surgeon X #1

I really wanted to like Surgeon X. Right there on the front cover, third credited, Karen Berger–the editor getting cover credit. And John Watkiss art. It has to be something special. Only it’s not. The super sad part of Surgeon X is it isn’t special.

It takes place in the future after a medical crisis. I think it’s the second or third Image book with a medical crisis going on. There are rioting people because of refugees and racism basically. It takes place twenty years in the future, but writer Sara Kenney is pretty obvious in her commentary and she’s just trying to make a future where things get worse. But mundanely worse, not fantastically worse. The narrator is a doctor who quits to become a rogue surgeon, dealing out life and death in equal amounts. There’s a lot of narration. It’s not good narration.

But the real problem is Watkiss’s art. It’s not clear if he’s not the right artist for so much dialogue–exposition everywhere–or if he’s just rushing. The script’s an information dump not a narrative and Watkiss is never able to generate any tension off the thrill scenes. Maybe the colorist is just wrong for Watkiss.

Regardless, I’m really bummed. I wanted this book to something vaguely exciting.

CREDITS

The Path of Most Resistance: Chapter One, Cutting Loose; writer, Sara Kenney; artist, John Watkiss; colorist, James Devlin; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher; editor, Karen Berger; publisher, Image Comics.

Jessica Jones 1 (December 2016)

Jessica Jones #1

I loved Alias, I really did. I can’t even bring myself to read the trades again. I even have the hardcovers. Loved that comic. I didn’t realize Jessica Jones was going to be Bendis and Gaydos, I thought just Bendis. Jessica Jones is like a remake of Alias, only without the shock value, without the intrigue, with some superhero soap opera thrown in. Reading it, I had to remind myself the comic doesn’t do done-in-ones, so not to expect too much.

Overall, it’s better than expected, but Bendis is treating Jessica like the subject of the comic not the protagonist. He’s got cameos from Misty Knight and Jessica Drew and the latest crop of New York heroes. Because New York is back–Gaydos’s New York from the regular people’s perspective, that amazing thing he does with it. And it’s cool. It’d be better if Jessica were a stronger character, it’d be better if the mystery were actually engaging, it’d be better if it didn’t rely so heavily on Jessica’s post-Alias backstory. I can’t believe Bendis expects the reader to keep up with it all.

Will Jessica Jones get to Alias-levels of quality? Nope. Will it get better if Bendis has enough time to get through setting up his elaborately deceptive ground situation? Probably. It’ll have Gaydos art and the art is almost worth the price of admission alone.

CREDITS

Writer, Brian Michael Bendis; artist, Michael Gaydos; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Alanna Smith and Tom Brevoort; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Betty Boop 1 (October 2016)

Betty Boop #1

Upon reading this first issue of Roger Langridge and Gisèle Lagacé’s Betty Boop relaunch, it occurred to me I have never seen a full “Betty Boop” cartoon. I have no idea what to expect from it. What the comic delivers is some cute jokes and some cute songs. Betty Boop’s more the subject of the comic than the protagonist, which makes it a little weird.

But it’s a fine comic. I don’t know how excited I’d be if it weren’t Langridge–I hope he someday can get an album together of all these songs he’s been doing over the years in comics. Lagacé’s art is solid. Betty Boop as a character has a lot more polish than any of the other ones in the book and it almost seems like a licensing thing.

The story has to do with ghosts and evil lizards and home foreclosures. It’s not as imaginatively plotted as those elements would need to come off; again, I don’t know Boop so maybe Langridge is pacing it off the cartoons?

It does not, however, get me interested in watching “Betty Boop” cartoons at all, which I sort of thing I should be doing.

CREDITS

Enter the Lizard; writer, Roger Langridge; artist and letterer, Gisèle Lagacé; colorist, Ma. Victoria Robado; editors, Anthony Marques and Joseph Rybandt; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

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